Darlene Ruberto

I am now in my twenty-third year as a massage therapist. Before I was called into this profession in 1990, I didn't know the first thing about massage and I had never in my life received a massage. It was truly a calling to find my life's work. I had no idea what this journey would entail when I decided to go to massage school. All I knew was that I had been drawn to become a massage therapist—the rest is history… And what an amazing journey it has been.

Drawn to Atlanta

In the 1980’s, I was living in Texas and had been in the profession of property management for some years. I knew then it wasn’t fit for me. I wasn’t the business-type. Something in my character, my attributes, and my personality just didn’t mesh with that type of world. I knew I needed to do something else—I just didn’t know where to begin to change my life.

One night, I was watching CNN News and there was a segment about onsite massage. Therapists were bringing massage into business offices. I looked at that and thought, “Gee, that’s really cool.” Something struck me at that time, but it was all subconscious.

In March of 1989, I had decided to move back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA with the hope of discovering a new path that would allow me to be the compassionate, kind, non-judgmental, and intuitive person I knew I was.  What I didn't know is that...I WAS on the path, which brought me to Atlanta. I left Pittsburgh March of 1990. Originally, I had moved there for another property management job—and what I thought would be the fresh start that I needed. After only a few short months of being in Atlanta, I woke up one morning in August 1990, and I knew I wanted to become a massage therapist. Again, I had never had a massage before in my life—but I knew this would be my life’s work.

My Educational Journey

In October 1990, I enrolled in the Atlanta School Massage—the only massage school in Atlanta at the time. The school was lovingly started in 1980 by Farra and Letecia Allen, who were passionate about massage. They had put together a very specific deep tissue curriculum which was their signature.  Fortunately for me, they were one of the best schools in the country at that time. I was thrilled to finally start the night school program in March of 1991, and spent the next year of my life learning more than I ever dreamed imaginable from some of the best instructors.

Hungry for more and inspired by my mentors and role models, I continued my education. I accumulated 172 hours of CE between 1993 and 1999—and, at that time, there was no licensure in Georgia. What impacted the direction that my work was going was achieving my neuromuscular certification from Jeanne Aland. Jeanne was Paul St. Johns first assistant.

My Teaching Journey

Following in my mentors’ footsteps in 1993, I entered the Teacher Training program at the Atlanta School of Massage. I became an Assistant Instructor to the very same phenomenal teachers I learned from just one year prior.  To teach, is to learn. 

Also in 1993, Jeanne Aland invited me to be one of her NMT assistant instructors. That was a huge honor.

During my time at the school, Benny Vaughn joined our staff for about a year as a consultant. Like my previous mentors, Benny modeled for me (and for all of us) the highest of ethics, professionalism, and education. He helped me to evolve as a teacher, a professional, and as a therapist.

Soon after, I became an instructor and remained at the school for four years. My professional development as a teacher led me to the New Life Institute of Massage. I was invited to teach neuromuscular therapy. At that time they were teaching Judith Delaney's course. I remember my first group of students fondly. We had an amazing journey together.

My Massage Therapy Journey

Massage has been my full-time career since graduating. I enjoy the clinical setting and have always worked part time in chiropractic offices, as well as maintained a private practice. 

A career highlight was getting to perform massage inside the Olympic Village at the1996 Atlanta Games.  A local spa was invited to set up inside the Village, and I volunteered there. This was due to the efforts of Benny Vaughn. Benny also arranged chair massage for the doping control staff where they were lodging. Benny had contacted my business partner, Steve Hilton, if we could staff the job. I then had the opportunity following the Atlanta Olympics to also provide massage at the Para Olympics. Those were the true athletes to me! 

My Most Influential Mentors

Throughout the beginnings of my career in Atlanta and beyond, I had the great honor of learning and working alongside a list of great massage therapy educators: Jeanne Aland, Benny Vaughn, Whitney Lowe (one of my teachers at the Atlanta school), Don Schuman (Lead Instructor, wrote The Balanced Body), the amazing Ed Clark (another one of my instructors, my main influence, and still a good friend), and the incomparable, legendary, Laurie Craig, who taught me to love anatomy and physiology, as well as Dr.'s Marti and Bruce Costello who owned the New Life Institute. There are others, but they all taught me something very important: that it is about being of service. That being a good therapist is more than just learning good technique.

The Journey Comes Full Circle

In December 2001, I moved back home to Pittsburgh to focus on my family. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I could never let her go down that dark road alone. In order to care for her, my career went on the back burner. My fifties become more about family, and less about work—although I worked part-time wherever I could at various spas and chiropractic offices. Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine having a private practice again… But life happens!

In 2007, I started a private practice which has been growing ever since.

The best part about owning my own practice and continuing to serve my clients is providing a level of massage that they see value in. My practice is entirely word-of-mouth, and I am 100% okay with that! I feel that represents my body of work better than anything or anyone else could. 

What Board Certification Means to Me

Why did I become Board Certified? I became Board Certified because it was there, and I saw the value of it. Board certification is a big boost to our profession. Although I was taught to be humble, it does give me a credential to say that my experience and education is more than entry-level—especially when I get referrals from doctors and physical therapists. I want my clients to know how important higher education, ethics, professionalism, and higher standards is to me. 

My Challenge to the Massage Therapy Profession

I encourage everyone to look into Board Certification—and, really, anyone who is serious about this profession. I still believe our profession has a way to go as far as ethics and professionalism and education are concerned. We are making great strides to do that, and I look forward to what comes next. Most importantly, though, I want to see schools hire good teachers and create stronger curriculums, and to graduate ethical and professional people that will empower our profession to grow even further.

What’s the next level for me? I will always be involved within the profession even when I am no longer able to do massage. I see myself becoming involved with organizations working for better schools and education. I am 64, but not ready to go out to pasture yet. I can’t imagine a life without being involved in the profession. Even after 23 years in the profession, I still want to learn. I am still passionate about what I do.

I recommend to every massage therapist two books:

  • Job's Body by Dean Juhan
  • Touching the Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu

Because it is not just about good technique, you need to intelligently understand what you are touching.  Concerning the people you touch, education, and learning are important but in closing let me quote an old saying, “No one cares how much you know, until you show how much you care.”

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